Sunday, May 24, 2009

Album Review: The Paper Chase - 'Someday This Could All Be Yours'

Title: Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1) | Release: May 26, 2009 |
Label: Kill Rock Stars

paper chase albumThe Paper Chase is an intriguing curiosity. The Dallas quartet's music has always been compelling and weird enough to grab your attention, but it could be an exhausting task to try to listen to an entire album of theirs in one sitting. Fortunately, The Paper Chase's newest offering, Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1), delivers a more cohesive and concise version of the band, a version that is as anxious and as paranoid as ever, but with a greater sense of hunger and purpose behind their jagged and menacing brand of dissonant pop-rock.

Musically, there isn't much divergence from the formula that has made The Paper Chase so compelling during its decade-long existence: squealing motion-sick guitars, thunderous drums, evocative samples, menacing piano melodies, and tortured vocals that sound like a mix of Mike Patton, Maynard James Keenan, and Isaac Brock. In the case of Someday, it's the arrangements and thematic content that have evolved to make this ten-song collection the masterpiece that their previous effort Now You Are One of Us fell just short of becoming.

As with The Great Nostalgic's album, which I reviewed positively a few days ago, The Paper Chase's new album also owes its musical and compositional focus to having a concept tying it all together. Where The Great Nostalgic explored an intimate story concept about two lovers divided by their preference for city life versus rural life, The Paper Chase delivers the kind of concept album that only a band as manic and apocalyptic-sounding as this can. Someday This Could All Be Yours is about every imaginable way the human race can be wiped out. Each already tensely titled song ("If Nobody Moves, Nobody Will Get Hurt" and "This is a Rape", for example) also has a disaster-inspired subtitle like The Flood, The Epidemic, The Comet, etc.

In the past, Paper Chase lyrics were about being heart-sick and seeing relationships break down. Now, they're about getting sick in a global pandemic and watching the earth break down (the whistling winding trees/the boiling of the seas/the buzz of a billion bees). All this talk of cataclysm might be too much for some. You might consider it over-the-top and tacky, or just plain depressing. But just as with a good disaster movie, suspension of disbelief is key here. Does principle songwriter John Congleton really believe that lightning rods are the fingers of God and that a flood wants to rape you? Probably not, but it makes for the kind of disturbingly fun imagery you'd expect from a Paper Chase rock opera about impending doom.

Congleton has been at the helm of The Paper Chase's producer chair for as long as he's been behind the mic, when he launched the project a decade ago. By day, Congleton is a renowned Dallas-based producer who has worked with musicians like Bono, Modest Mouse, Polyphonic Spree, The Thermals, and more. But at night he becomes a charismatic frontman with a live stage presence that's influenced more strongly by cult leaders and 20th century dictators than other rock singers. That kind of presence is felt equally as powerful on this album. Whereas in the past Congleton sometimes came off sounding emo and whiny, he now sounds confident and maniacal.

And the odd thing is that for how abrasive and confrontational this album is, at its heart Someday is a pop album. It's built around its own twisted sense of melody and catchy larger-than-life hooks. Congleton has great instincts for what makes a chorus anthemic and arena-ready. I could see a massive group of concertgoers singing along to the lines "No one's gonna save you, no one's gonna save you, your money or your life, your money or your life" or "I sleep in my clothes because nobody knows, when this shit goes down we're gonna turn this thing around." And it's the bittersweet optimism found in lines like the the latter that makes Someday This Could All Be Yours a highly listenable pop gem, rather than a catastrophic bummer.

Check out The Paper Chase on MySpace or at Kill Rock Stars.

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